Bennet, Hickenlooper, Neguse join call for review of noise, lead at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport

Luke Zarzecki
lzarzecki@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/13/23

Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper and Representative Neguse are urging the Federal Aviation Administration to send a representative to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport’s Community Noise …

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Bennet, Hickenlooper, Neguse join call for review of noise, lead at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport

Posted

Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper and Representative Neguse are urging the Federal Aviation Administration to send a representative to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport’s Community Noise Roundtable meetings in a Jan. 13 letter. 

The move comes nearly a month after U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, Bennet and Hickenlooper sent a similar letter asking the FAA to address concerns at Centennial Airport. Residents living near Centennial Airport have been asking for action on similar items to those of residents near RMMA

A version of letter was initially released Jan. 13 but was updated on Jan. 17.

“Flights taking off from, flying north, and coming back to land at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport have repeatedly raised concerns from surrounding residents regarding noise pollution, potential lead pollution/contamination, and safety issues,” the letter reads. 

The letter acknowledges that changes to flight paths and runway usage can’t happen without FAA approval. 

“Increased FAA engagement would benefit the health and safety of surrounding residents and set an exemplary standard for other General Aviation Airports in the area,” the RMMA letter reads. 

The FAA did not comment on the letter and said they will "respond to the members directly." 

Much of the issues of leaded fuel use and noise are in federal hands. RMMA Airport Director Paul Anslow has said he manages more than 350 hangar leases, and can’t discriminate against who he rents to. As well, the airport relies and accepts grants from the FAA to improve the airport — like fixing taxiways — which gives the FAA skin in the game. 

Grant assurances require airports that accept federal funding, such as those from AIP to meet certain obligations, such as maintaining runways and honoring legitimate aeronautical operations.

Anslow also said if the EPA and FAA deem the fuel is safe and legal, then he is obligated to provide it to customers. 

Officials for Westminster said they don’t have jurisdiction over the airport since it isn’t in their city, meaning their toolbox is limited. 

Economic engine

Former Jefferson County Spokesperson Julie Story said Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport provides more than 3,000 jobs totaling $190 million in annual pay, more than $700 million in annual business revenues to the region and approximately $27 billion in indirect annual economic value, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s 2020 Aeronautics Economic Impact Study.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing July 28 regarding leaded aviation fuel and highlighted Santa Clara County’s response to the Reid-Hillview airport. Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, testifying at the hearing, said the county stopped selling leaded fuel on Jan. 1 and stopped accepting airport improvement grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. 

Since transitioning from leaded gas, the airport’s operations and fuel sales have stayed the same.

“In the six months since the transition, fuel vendors at Reid-Hillview have sold approximately 90% as much unleaded Avgas as they sold leaded Avgas in the first six months of 2021,” she said at the hearing.

That may signal good news for a transition away from avgas (aviation gas), as the Environmental Protection Agency is researching leaded fuel use at airports. 

According to a news release on Oct. 7, the agency announced a “proposed determination that emissions of lead from aircraft that operate on leaded fuel cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.”

Any final endangerment finding will be released sometime in 2023. 

“EPA is not proposing aircraft engine lead emission standards with this action. EPA’s consideration of endangerment is a first step toward the application of EPA’s authority to address lead pollution. If the proposed finding is finalized, EPA would subsequently propose regulatory standards for lead emissions from aircraft engines,” the news release reads. 

According to the airport’s website, in 2022, RMMA was the “third busiest airport in Colorado in terms of operations with a landing or takeoff occurring every three minutes on average.”

In 2011, the airport saw 119,353 takeoffs and landings. In 2022, total operations at RMMA are estimated to be 250,000, according to the airport’s Noise Roundtable presentation. Exact  year-end numbers are still being verified. 

The presentation also said noise complaints went from 1,735 with 201 households complaining in 2018 to 2,922 with 365 households in 2022. 

The airport, according to the 2017 EPA National Emissions Inventory, dropped 580 pounds of lead in 2017, ranking the Jeffco-based airport 63rd of  the top 100 lead-emitting airports in the country.

The proposed endangerment finding is undergoing public notice and comment. On Jan. 9, Westminster City Council approved a letter to be sent to the EPA. 

On Jan. 17, Boulder County Commissioners unanimously agreed to send comments to the EPA  as well.

"... in support of EPA’s proposed finding that lead emissions from aviation gas (avgas) used by piston-engine airplanes endanger human health and the environment. This finding, if finalized, would pave the way for EPA to regulate avgas," the agenda reads. 

The agenda also includes a memo explaining the request, detailing that Boulder Municipal Airport and the Vance Brand Municipal Airport in Longmont caters to planes that use the leaded fuel. 

What took so long?

The letter came a month after a similar letter regarding Centennial Airport was sent, and residents have been raising the issue to elected officials since 2018, according to Charlene Willey, a resident of Westminster. 

In fact, the RMMA Airport Advisory Board Minutes dated Oct. 2, 2018, reads “Noise: There was a quick discussion around noise complaints, leading into a need to do a market study on leaded gas vs unleaded to dramatically reduce cost and noise.”

On Sept. 9, 2019, Neguse held a community meeting regarding lead and noise at the Louisville Public Library, according to an invitation from his staff members. 

In 2022, a group of healthcare workers also asked the Jefferson County commissioners to address concerns surrounding lead fuel at the airport. 

Willey said she feels as if she’s walking in circles — with each agency, like the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health, each referring her to the next.

According to a spokesperson for Bennet, the timing of the letters was "responsive to when our office has heard from the affected communities." 

"Thank you to Senator Hickenlooper, Senator Bennett, and Congressman Neguse for encouraging the FAA to actively participate in the Community Noise Roundtable at Centennial and Rocky Mountain Airport.  The FAA is instrumental in alleviating issues on usage of lead avigas and noise issues," Jefferson County Commissioner Tracy Kraft-Tharp said.

This story has been updated from an original version. 

Rocky Mountain Metropolitain Airport, FAA letter, noise, safety, leaded fuel

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